Monthly Archives: April 2013

She is who I am…

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This afternoon’s instructor asked us to quiet our minds and then let whatever came to surface have space in our thoughts. This is a scary request for someone with a mind like mine…a past like mine. The never-ending mechanical whir of my brain being asked to make room for only one thought is intimidating…and yet that is the why behind yoga…the thing that drags me to the mat…the pull of my practice.

As I stood in samasthiti in a quiet darkened room full of other people’s energy, I slowed my mind, folded my hands at heart center, and tried to obey the instructions. As my mind changed from whirling dervish to second hand on a old clock and my breath began to match the universal pace of breathing in the room, I heard a thought rumble in my mind. The kind bass gravel of my Dad’s voice saying “Lee-Li-Lou.”

This alliteration. These three simple sounds. This nickname.

My pulse quickened for a moment…then slowed in a wave of easy comfort…security. A nickname not spoken often in recent years. In adulthood, as my father and I became strangers to one another, he stopped using this gentle term of endearment. I do not like being called by nicknames. I answer to them only for the most special of people, tolerate them from some, and shut them down in all other cases.

But my father…my daddy…my dad…he can call me LeeLiLou.

For in those three little syllables lies a world of security, safety  and identity. It’s rolled up in the trust of a daughter for her strong, handsome father. It’s sweet to the ears of the little girl lost who still lives in the grown woman. It’s a name spoken in the farthest reaches of my mind…spoken today in the clear space…in the calm…in the changed woman.

Before there was a damaged little person with the weight of the world on her shoulders, there was LeeLiLou.

She of the fierce independence  She with the crazy hair and reckless laughter. She who could scowl with her eyes, put a smile on her face, and deliver a message with a look. She whose very existence was a challenge to anyone who would think to put her down, ask her to hide her light, or tell her she wasn’t enough. She of the brave, funny, mouthy, and soulful.

Before there was ice in these veins, there was fire. Before there was fear, there was fearless love. Before there was hesitation, there was a little actress, a writer, a singer, a dancer, a gymnast, a teacher, & a doctor. These were the dreams of the sassy and promises of the Divine.

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I keep this picture in my meditation space because this is a picture of undamaged, unafraid, unabashedly joyful with a kick ass tan, frizzy hair, fight in her eyes, and a smile on her face.

My mother has a different story about this picture…something like “bratty youngest child who cried until she got her way.”

What she doesn’t know is that though I was only 3 years old, I remember every detail of this day. I remember it as one of the last big wins before a series of losses. I picked the day of this picture. I picked the outfit. I picked the doll I got for finally taking these pictures on the 3rd attempt. I smiled the smile I wanted to smile. My eyes say what I want them to say.

Spoiled? Maybe.

In full control of my spirit at 3 years old? Completely.

And for the record…I’ve spent the last 10 years getting that girl back. Every therapy session…every fight to have what is mine at work…every time I’ve spoken up on my own behalf personally, professionally or spiritually…every difficult conversation with a family member…every breakup with a guy who wasn’t man enough…every dime earned…every story written…every dance danced…every song sung.

Every.
Single.
Word.

Taking me back…back to being her.

Like her or not, she’s my hero.

She is who I was…and by God…she is who I am.

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Things That Matter Part 2: Sometimes a kitten saves lives…

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**Readers Advisory: If you are (a) sick of hearing about my cats, (b) a jerk who doesn’t like cats, or (c) going to comment with anything that involves the words “crazy” “cat” “lady” or any combination thereof, STOP!!!! Click the little X in the corner and go find your soul. ** 

This is the story about how one little cat has saved my life over and over…and gone on to save hundreds of others.

Once upon a time (August 12th, 2009 to be exact)…

There was a little brown house on a street with no street lamps. And inside that house was a girl who’d never had much success seeing meteors during a meteor shower (just ask my sister Kelly about that one). But with a glass of wine in hand, I went to sit in my little overgrown courtyard to give seeing some meteors a half-hearted attempt.

As I sat out in the warm New Mexican night I heard a kitten crying. I looked around the house a bit trying to locate the sound but couldn’t quite pin point it and since it was well after midnight, I figured I couldn’t go looking in the neighbors fences yards and windows. My immediate assumption was that someone had gotten a kitten and left it at home alone when it was too young. After a while I went to bed, and though I could still hear the kitten crying, I eventually went to sleep, feeling sorry for the little guy. The next morning as I sat in my home office working I continued to hear the kitten. 5204_116907156106_1733292_nFinally I couldn’t take it anymore and went out into the hot day to see if I could find it. As I stepped out into my back yard the kitten, seeing me, started crying even harder. The little yowls getting rougher and rougher as he wore out his little voice. I finally spotted him, high in the branches of the neighbors tree that hung over our shared fence. At the bottom of the tree sat the neighbors dog, patiently waiting for a snack.

I climbed a ladder, rescued a little orange ball of cuteness, and put him on the ground. As I turned to walk back into the house, he followed me. Trotting right into the office with me. I put him back outside as I had no intention of having a pet.  But he patiently waited at the back door and windows for me to let him in. His cuteness finally won and I let him in.

He stayed, named himself Malcolm, and has saved my life and the lives of hundreds.

The End…

Oh wait…did you say something?

I  think I just heard you say “Wait! It sounds like YOU did the rescuing. So how did he rescue you?”

I’m so very glad you asked! 🙂 Let’s see…

  • Before Malcolm came to live with me I was working at a job I hated and on the road about 60 to 70% of the time. I had stopped dating, stopped eating right, was gaining back all the weight I’d lost, and was just unhappy. Malcolm made it easy for me to say no to trips I didn’t want to go on and to make better choices about which trips I would say yes too.  He also made it easy for me to start making better choices because I suddenly took very seriously the notion that someone else was relying on me…even if it was a ball of fur anyone could love. He didn’t want a different mama and I didn’t want him to have one. (Still don’t by the way!)
  • Within less than a year of getting Malcolm I lost that job I hated and dropped right into one of the scariest seasons of my life. Nine months without a job and a fast approaching bankruptcy. During that time Malcolm became my reminder that life was going to work out. He reminded me daily that it all had to work out because the sun came up, the Fancy Feast cans needed my thumbs to open them and put food in the bowl, and I was the only one who could get the toys out from under the couch. When I thought my world was ending, Malcolm just flopped over near my feet with a face that said “You know what would distract you? Rubbing my belly!” And I’d laughed. And when you can laugh…you can find hope.
  • Malcolm, Rose, and I moved to Seattle last summer. This has not been an easy transition for me. When the days got short in the winter and the sun stopped shining, I felt old waves of fear, doubt, and depression sneaking up on me. I wasn’t happy with the job, I was lonely, and the days were too damn dark and dreary for me to find relief. I came home from work on a particularly hard day, sat down in my favorite chair, and said to the air “What the hell am I doing in Seattle?” At just that moment, Mal jumped into my lap and sat facing me. I said “Why did I bring us here?” He said nothing (he is after all A CAT…just in case you got caught up in the story and forgot!). He then proceeded to climb into my hoodie 7033_145776981106_7010302_n(something he’s done since he was a tiny kitten), wrap himself around my body, look up at me sleepily through the zipper, and go fast asleep. All I could do was smile. He’d done it again. He’d reminded me to stop thinking about what happens next, find a comfy spot, and wait it out. While I was caught up in wondering what I’d done wrong and what the future held, Mal was totally warm and cozy in the place that he feels the safest and most loved. Duh! That’s when I did what I do in times of great anxiety…I turned inward…where I feel the safest…and waited out the long days quietly. And they did indeed pass…Spring came…and I’d managed, with the help of my furry friend to keep depression at bay.

What’s that you say?

Oh…I forgot to tell you how Mal saved hundreds of other lives.

Well…here’s the thing. About two years ago I decided to give up meat, dairy, eggs, etc. for Lent. During that time I started having weird dreams…well…one dream. The dream was slightly different each time. In it, Mal was still Mal but he was never a cat. Sometimes Mal was a duck. Or a Frog. Once he was a cow. He was always Mal. I always loved him and he always loved me.

When Lent was over, I didn’t go back to eating meat and animal products. When asked why I share lots of different reasons…health, the environment, my migraines being cured, etc. But if I’m totally honest, the bottom line is that I realized through that dream that I could no longer eat animals because I love Mal. Mal is no different than a duck. Just because as a society we’ve ascribed value to Mal because he’s a cat (one of our domesticated pets of choice), doesn’t actually make him more valuable. Don’t get me wrong. Mal is extremely valuable…because God made him, he has a desire to live, and a personality. Just like cows, frogs, and ducks.

So every year, 198 animals keep on living because of Mal.

Sometimes a kitten saves lives.

Things that Matter Part 1: Sometimes hair matters…

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**Reader’s Advisory: If you are (a) sick of hearing about my hair, (b) uncomfortable with swearing, or (c) my mother, STOP!!!. Click the little X in the corner and go have a cup of tea!!!** 

Important Facts About My Hair: 

1) I was 23 before I scissors ever touched my hair. (Well…except the one time I was 4 and I purposely put gum in my hair so I could cut photo (5)myself some bangs. But that is a story for another day. Here is proof of the bangs in what is still my favorite picture of myself!)

2) My mother and father believe women should not cut their hair based on some biblical writings in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11). I’ve known this my whole life…meaning I don’t remember ever NOT knowing this. I also never got it. I couldn’t figure out how that worked and was troubled by all the nice church of Christ ladies who were going to hell because they didn’t know about these verses. (Sounds just like me doesn’t it!?) However, I totally respect my parents beliefs and am impressed that my mother has practiced this for almost 50 years. I however don’t consider this a salvation issue. (That’s Christianese for “stuff you’ll go to hell over”)

3) I have a rockin’ head of hair. It has been my shield, my glory, the envy of others, the bane of my existence, and my one beauty (a Little Women reference for my fellow bibliophiles). And between my parents beliefs and my need for security, my hair has been a source of vanity, stress, and comfort through the years. 

4) Two weeks ago I cut my hair shorter than it has ever been in my life. I’ve been working up to this haircut for a very long time. A VERY long time. Since cutting it I have been thinking about a moment in time that, though years in the past, gave me the courage to cut my hair…and a whole lot more.

Once upon a time…

I loved and was loved by a tall, funny, beautiful artist. I loved him fiercely and deeply. In return he loved me with abandon and without condition. I was 29 years old and had NEVER been loved unconditionally by anyone. I was a terrified, uptight, shame-riddled women, being loved in a way that I could not wrap my head around. From the start our love was burdened with our different baggage. Mine a suitcase of overly conservative, religious upbringing and unresolved childhood trauma. His a duffel bag carrying his scars and wounds from the wife of his youth and a family history that left holes where love should have been.

And still…

One day as we sat together I said “Someday I am going to cut my hair really short. I mean…like Halle Berry short.” I threw it at him like a threat…a challenge. I expected him to disdain the idea and tell me that he loved my hair. But in doing so I would be free to judge his love for me. It was lose lose all the way around. It would have been an unfair task for a lesser man. But the Sweet Warrior rose to the challenge.

He smiled, let his eyes wander over my hair, then looked me in the eyes. He waited.

“What?” I shot back in response to his silence.

He softly said through a teasing chuckle, “What are you waiting for Leah?”

I was rattled. He’d done what he did so often. Answered my insecurity with a question. He easily handed me back my own fear and with a tilt of his head made me see the absurdity. But not being quite ready to deal with it honestly, I hastily spewed a stream of consciousness “I don’t think I could pull of a short short haircut with my fat face. Maybe when I’m thinner. It’s not like I want to look like a boy for God’s sake.”

He waited.

I didn’t miss a beat and without taking a breath continued, “My mother would hate it. She’d probably tell me that I was going to hell or that she was disappointed or that she hated it.”

Still he waited.

“And anyway, my hair is my only good feature. It’s really the only beautiful thing about me.”

When I finally took a breath, I could see that he was done waiting. He tipped my chin to him and said, “You will looked beautiful with your short short haircut. You know why?”

All I could do was shake my head side to side and blink back the tears in my dark eyes.

“Because you ARE beautiful. Your hair is beautiful…yes. But it is NOT your only beauty. YOU are beautiful. You are BEAUTIFUL. And when you have short short hair,” he paused to ruffle his then chin length hair, “shorter than mine, you will STILL be pure beauty. You will pull it off because you are sassy, funny, kind, and the inside of you is as beautiful as the outside. Your short hair will be beautiful. You will be every inch the woman you are now. Your smile will still be beautiful. Your eyes will still sparkle beautifully. Your lips will still be juicy and beautiful. Your curves will still be sexy and beautiful. You will still be you. Beautiful. The difference will be you’ll have short hair.”

I did that cry-laugh thing that comes when a woman is balancing the wonder of being loved against the weight of having her thoughts of herself challenged. I smiled. A big smile of love that welled up from an over-flowing heart. The smile that would sometimes make this man of mine raise his hand to his heart and pretend to faint. He kissed my forehead.

“As for your mother,” he paused for a long moment and smiled mischievously, ” Fuck her.”

This made me laugh wildly and what followed was, to the best of my recollection, some of the best kissing ever known in the history of kissing.

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Speak…

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About 6 months ago someone asked me “If you are as ‘healed’ as you claim to be from your childhood abuse, why do you talk about it so much?”

This quote answers that question very simply.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” –Dr. Brene Brown in “The Gifts of Imperfection”

I don’t think anyone enjoys being vulnerable…but I am glad I have learned to be.

I share because it is important to me that others come out of the shadows and speak their hurt, shame, and fear into the light because once it is in the light it begins to lose power.

I share because “healed” isn’t a one-time thing but a continuous transformation process over time.

I share because I have a voice, a tribe, a community, and an audience.

I share because:

  • A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds
  • 90% of children who are sexually abused know their perpetrator in some way
  • 30% of children who are abused will abuse their children later
  • 80% of 21 year olds that were abused present with some sort of mental disorderchild-deaths-per-day-line_9-30-2011
  • Abused girls are 25% more likely to become pregnant before reaching adulthood
  • Abused girls are more likely to practice unsafe sex and be exposed to STDs, HIV/AIDS, and physical issues
  • 2/3rds of people in treatment for addiction were abused as children

So yes…I share.

I am not ashamed. I am not afraid.

I will be the change…

Courage leads to courage which leads to courage…

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Through the years I have found that courageous acts tend to snowball into more courageous acts. I have found that to be true again these past few weeks.

Courageous Act #1
Deciding to bite my tongue and watch things unfold at work has involved courage for me. I’m an active participant in my own life and speak up when I feel there is injustice or wrong doing. But in this particular role, under these particular circumstances, I decided to just watch some of the interplay, do my job, and only speak when necessary for a few weeks to see where things go.
Good News: I’m valuable to my boss and have earned the respect of some of my coworkers and superiors.
Bad News: I’ve used bad judgement in trusting a few people and confirmed my suspicion that the company culture is a odd fit for me.
More Good New: I can work with my current situation while I wait for whatever changes come along (change is after all inevitable) and now my eyes open to make better decisions. I’ve also been reminded of the importance of having friends away from work.

Which leads us to…

Courageous Act #2
After several months of signing up for Meetup groups in Seattle and then cancelling at the last minute, a few week’s ago I finally went to a Happy Hour. This is courageous for me because I am super uncomfortable meeting new people. I am always convinced that no one in any new group of people will talk to me and I conjure up images of being ignored and treated horribly. Mind you…that has NEVER happened to me. And yet the imagination can be a crazy bitch and I can still get worked up every time. Now I’ve been to several meetups, tried a couple different yoga classes, have said yes to invitations for lunch or happy hour from people I’m meeting at work and out, and am slowly shaking this fear again and trying harder to give the chilly people of Seattle a chance.

This led to…

Courageous Act #3
Dating again. Uh…don’t get excited…I didn’t say I’ve been on any dates. I’m just willing to date again. After swimming through the entire dating pool of Albuquerque, I gave up a few years ago. If one more man without a job, living with his mother, with 3 kids from 3 different men asked me out I was going to SCREAM. So rather than take that chance, I just stopped being open to it. I dated in Denver…but somehow kept managing to date the same type of guy over and over and over. And since I didn’t have my medical marijuana card, me and the men of Denver didn’t have much in common. Then there was my brush with the past last summer. I ran into an ex and things heated up to a slow simmer between us. But ultimately nothing came of it. Which brings us to current times.
Willing.
Still picky.
Just willing.

And that brings us to…

Courageous Act #4
I needed a change. Something new to make me feel pretty. I needed to mark the changes I’ve been going through…emotional, physical, and financial changes. So after months (ok years) of wondering if I could be brave enough to do it, I cut my hair. It is SHORT! All day today I’ve been stunned by the girl in the mirror. I feel sassy…and I am EXCELLENT at sassy. I’m way cuter when I’m sassy.

And in some crazy, inexplicable way that takes us over to…

Courageous Act #5
For weeks I’ve been contemplating asking my mom and dad if they’d let me pay for them to join me on a long weekend in Northern California to visit with my dad’s family. For most people this seems innocuous enough. For me this is a painstaking decision that involves prayer, meditation, talking to my best friends, and daily decisions to “wait until tomorrow” or “next week” or “the weekend”. We do not have an easy relationship and being together could be great or really really hard. We could bond…or I could experience an emotional setback. And yet I couldn’t let go of the idea of inviting them. I watched my hair fall as Erin cut it yesterday and thought, “It’s only hair. It’ll grow back.” And a little voice said “It’s only an invitation. What have you got to lose?”

So today I took a deep breath, dialed the phone, and extended the invitation. As they take some time to think about the invitation and let me know, I am reminded that the reaction of the other is not what measures the act of courage.

What courageous thing do YOU need to try today? Before you chicken out, remember…

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